So The Atlantic is talking about triggers. A lot of articles over the past few years have talked about triggers in increasingly distressed fashions as students on campuses and the limited reality that can be created and maintained there bleed out into the real world, highly offended at a lack of triggers. I’m going to link to an article I quire liked. The article covers a huge issue that I don’t think is really understood by writers at The Atlantic. Read this. People are getting trigger warnings wrong. On both sides of the spectrum. People that are calling for punishments for professors who forget them, people who are stating that a trigger warning is any kind of censorship. I’ll quote directly from the article I linked to:
- “I use trigger warnings in the classroom as a way of preparing students who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while also easing the entire class into a discussion of the material. The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.”
Abuse and violence is inherent in our society and damaging to many people.Nothing about that is ok. I think trigger warnings are a great way of expressing these facts to a public that may not have been victimized or may not have realized that ways they have been victimized weren’t acceptable.
I don’t truly think that trigger warnings are for survivors. This description does. I personally believe that trigger warnings are for everyone else. Trigger warnings reinforce and reiterate that there are lots of things in our society that are just god damned wrong. And knowing the nature of our society; I can argue that hitherto trigger warnings being a ‘thing’, one really cannot argue that of course there is violence and victimization in our society. If someone is discussing it they’re OBVIOUSLY going to acknowledge these things are wrong.
That assumption seems silly to me because we’ve been talking about abuses and victimization for a long time before trigger warnings became a thing and one of the battles trigger warnings have had to make is with people who don’t think that thing X is significant enough to warrant a trigger warning. … because it doesn’t mesh with their idea of trauma that might create lasting results in a person. If we were dealing with these subjects at all or appropriately I think fewer people would react incredulously when they find out someone who has expressed a history of abuse has never been beaten before, as if someone is not abused because the absence of fists. See my early posts for a not detailed enough discussion on what abuse is.
Trigger warnings have gotten a huge reaction. I believe because they force everyone in a room to acknowledge that someone has been traumatized by something that is so endemic in our society apparently we have to talk about it. I believe that there absolutely must be humans who realized that the way they were spoken to as a child was deeply violent by partaking in a discussion on emotional abuse. And the inherent confusion, fear and anger that realizing you might have a trauma you were hitherto unaware of is easy to misplace. How dare some big jerk talk about how damaged they are by something I (the thinker) had to deal with! I’m just fine! Everyone I’ve ever heard shout something along the lines of “I’m FINE! You’re the one with all the problems…” that person was not in fact fine at all.
People react badly to something that pokes a hole in their reality. And I think that trigger warnings are reality poking hole makers.
What to do about trigger warnings? So as I stated. I don’t really think that trigger warnings are for survivors in many many many cases. This might be my personal anecdotal experience because my personal triggers are weird and usually happen interpersonally when I am dealing with others. Its a fucking hoot. And by hoot I mean the worst thing ever that I was not remotely conscious of.
What does a trigger do to a person? A trigger is something that makes our brains go back to the time when we were being victimized.
If one wants a concrete example, I am often triggered by not quite hearing what the people around me are saying. Depending on my ability at this point in my recovery to ignore the places my mind wants to go; I will literally hear the people around me that I love and trust say TERRIBLE THINGS to and about me. I spent about nine years from age five to fourteen in the thick of my school abuse. Things got a bit better after grade 8, but the damage was really done by then.
There are 180 or so days in a school year. There are about 1620 days in nine years of schooling. There are roughly seven hours in a day. I have at least 11,340 hours of time that I listened to people say horrible things about me. I have at least 11,340 hours of direct time that I feared actively being victimized. But that’s not how trauma works. I feared further victimization and remembered the day’s victimization wondering what I did to deserve it, how better to act and deserve it less in the future… this is a real time all the time thing. Trauma warps our brains.
I went to small schools. Where predominately kids in the grades above and below me were potential victimizers as well as the kids in my classes. Lets say at any given time there were probably over a hundred kids that might commit an insult, violence, or disparagement upon my person. I CAN BARELY DESCRIBE THIS TO PEOPLE. Because no one really seems to understand that I lived with an atmosphere of hatred that could come from anywhere at any time. Kids that were nice to me had bad days and would be terrible. Kids that were bored and wanted something to do. It was totally acceptable and encouraged to be cruel to me in order to make ones own social standing better. Some were more pervasive about inflicting suffering on me than others.
But let me try and make a clarifying explanation: When I went into grade six from the fifth grade, where kids in my own grade and down to particularly vicious third graders were harassing me. Someone. Sometimes many someones. Every. Single. Day. When I went into sixth grade, I rode the bus with my victimizers for over an hour to get to the middle school and I literally left my body in this time and was often unaware that they were passing my backpack around as I watched the power lines in the corner of the window drifting and curving. I had a group of eighth grade boys sexually harassing me before and after school as well as seventh grade girls slamming me into lockers for no apparent reason. My mother took me out of school after a bit less than six months of this because of the worsening changes in my personality.
I say I died that year because it is the first time I considered suicide. I was eleven.
Atmospheric violence messes with a person.
When I am triggered, places become unsafe for me. I fear that someone has turned a large portion of people ‘against’ me and that people will begin to victimize me and dismiss me the way they did when I was a child. My sense of security is damaged and I have almost no ability to be my shiny wonderful self because I’m afraid. I can’t trust other people because my trust was shattered. Being triggered takes me back emotionally to the place I was before my recovery.
The only way I have been able to deal with my triggers is really getting to the core of what it is that actually triggers me. The only way I have ever been able to do that is to realize when I am triggered after the fact and deal with myself appropriately to get back on track with where I think I should be in my recovery.
Mishearing people will trigger me on a bad day. Now that I’m actually aware of what is going on that I am not hearing people correctly when I hear the people closest to me say terrible things about me… this one is less a problem for me than ever before when I was unaware of it.
Witnessing bullying will trigger me when I can’t deal with it effectively. I learned this one working in schools. We did a glow performance for an elementary school and one of the teachers had his class come up to take a portrait. Right in front of me were two children shoving a larger child aside and telling him to get out of the photo because he was in their way. The two didn’t let him come behind them and by the time I realized what was going on the bullied child was walking away, trying not to cry in the chaos of the end of the assembly… and the two brats were no where to be found. I tried to catch up with the victim and realized belatedly that he didn’t want the fantastic performer to have seen that. He was walking away trying not to be in his body and I knew my own version of how he felt.
I cry writing that story. I came undone and went back stage and bawled my eyes out until one of our interns (troupe leader’s kid) came back because she’s a deeply empathic child at eleven years old. The process of explaining to her that nothing was really wrong right at that moment, but I had witnessed bullying and been unable to do anything about it made me remember my own bullying… this was deeply helpful in reorienting me to where I was in the present.
The other thing it did was give me the names of the kids involved. We pulled Jenna out of the crowd to take part in the show and she had been sitting with those kids and trying to get them to leave the one kid alone because they’d been harassing him the whole assembly. I was able to give those names to the principle of the school.
Most of my triggers are weird and totally unavoidable for me. I work with kids. I am going to witness bullying. I made the choice not to have children myself in part to avoid triggering situations where I won’t react well. Because I acknowledge that part of the reason I have triggers is because my pappy didn’t deal well with whatever his triggers are.
Imagine please and understand that there are lots of things that can be triggers. And lots of ways of reacting to triggers. Something that triggers me and is really normal and rational to trigger someone is someone having an aggressive tone/body stance with me. And the way I deal with that one is I get really irrationally aggressive right back. OR I simply blank face stare at them and let their words flow over me the same way I did when I knew I couldn’t escape from or stop my father’s tirades knowing if I cried it would be worse. It really depends on how I’m doing personally when this happens.
No one is going to be able to warn me that they might use common phrases I’ve heard yelled at me in full volume by my own father.
No one is going to be able to warn me that I might feel insecure one day and heavy footsteps is going to set me on edge to the point where I snap at people.
No one but me.
So what is the point?
The idea behind trigger warnings is not to make you avoid the material that might trigger you. Its to denote that there might be some extra care needed for these subjects. Extra care for yourself in most cases!
“Few of the media voices catastrophizing trigger warnings seem to understand that professors’ interactions with students in the classroom and during office hours are some of the most important ways of catching mental health (or time management, or substance abuse) issues in our students that may need further attention.” Read more.
The point was never to avoid things.
So I find the Atlantic’s blithe misunderstanding of what is actually going on and then feeling ok to publish… kind of stupid and ridiculously sad. But why don’t they get it? Willful ignorance is a thing. I think these are very smart writers who don’t have an article to get paid for if they address what is actually going on. So they take the ‘opposite side’ of trigger warnings without any real understanding of the issues that surround trigger warnings.
Clever. … not.